Breast implants may increase your risk of a rare type of cancer

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Most people are aware that there are some risks when it comes to getting breast implants – like scarring and infection, to name a few.

But now, a new NBC News report points out that there’s one more thing people should consider: Breast implants may be linked to a certain type of cancer.

Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), is a rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a.k.a., cancer of the immune system), according to the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In most situations, BIA-ALCL is found in the scar tissue and fluid near the implant, but in some cases, it can spread throughout a person’s body.

The good news? BIA-ALCL is rare and easily curable, says Dr Richard J Bleicher, a professor at the department of surgical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Hold on, tell me more about this cancer.

The FDA actually identified a possible link between breast implants and cancer in 2011 – though at the time, the risk was considered to be extremely low. “Years ago… it was thought that the incidence was one in a million,” says Dr Bleicher. “However, as awareness has grown, and a registry developed, the data noting this has been updated and the incidence is now felt to be higher.”

Years later, in 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated BIA-ALCL as a “T-cell lymphoma that can develop following breast implants,” per the FDA.

As of September 2017, the FDA says it has received 414 reports of BIA-ALCL, including among nine patients who died. This indicates that while the cancer is still very rare, it may be slightly more common than experts once thought.

The FDA also notes that BIA-ALCL occurs more frequently in breast implants with textured surfaces rather than smooth (it’s thought that a textured surface cuts down on breast implant movement, per NBC). Though, per the FDA, there’s no greater risk for silicone versus saline breast implants.

Also of note: Nearly half of the reported cases of cancer were diagnosed within seven to eight years of someone receiving implants. Still, “the risk of this remains low,” Dr Bleicher says. “A woman having breast implants should be aware of the symptoms, but not be overly concerned.” He also points out that plastic surgeons at his organisation “who place at least 160 implants a year have also never seen a case.”


Well, what are the symptoms of BIA-ALCL?

They’re pretty easy to spot: The main symptoms are persistent swelling or pain in the vicinity of the breast implant, per the FDA.

During an exam, doctors will usually see fluid collected around the implant (called a seroma). Some patients also say that they feel a lump under their skin or see a thick and noticeable scar capsule around the implant.

“If women notice enlargement or swelling of the breast, or ulceration of the breast, especially more than one year after the implant placement, it becomes important to bring this to your surgeon’s attention,” Bleicher says.


So, should I have my implants removed, just to be safe?

Not according to the FDA, which recommends doctors continue to give patients routine care and support (like check-ups and monitoring when something seems off).

“Because it has generally only been identified in patients with symptoms such as pain, lumps, swelling, or asymmetry that occur after the surgical incision has fully healed, breast implant removal in patients without symptoms or other abnormality is not recommended,” the FDA says.

“Although we don’t like the idea of development of cancer no matter how rare, fortunately, the likelihood of developing these is very low,” Dr Bleicher says. “There have been rare cases of women who have developed ALCL and died from it, but most cases of ALCL, as uncommon as it is, are treatable and many localised just to the area around the implant which is typically curable simply by removing the capsule around the implant with the implant itself. Women should definitely not panic.”

The bottom line: If you have breast implants and notice swelling, pain or a lump around your breast, see a doctor ASAP. Otherwise, you probably don’t need to worry.



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